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Secret Tips for Successful Cookies
by Rachel Keller

Making the perfect cookie involves more than just having the perfect recipe. You need to know the secrets to having your cookies turn out perfect every time.

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Making the perfect cookie involves more than just having the perfect recipe. You need to know the secrets to having your cookies turn out perfect every time. While you don't have to follow a recipe exactly, neglecting some important details can make a finished product less than desired.

In her book Cookies and Brownies (1999, Warner Book, A Time Warner Company, New York) Alice Medrich states that "inaccurate measurements do not always spoil the cookies." You can toss in extra raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, or even vanilla. You can substitute dried fruits for nuts or vice versa and experiment with extracts and flavors. But if your flour measurement is inaccurate, your cookies may be tough, dry, doughy, or leaden.

Always measure the baking soda, baking powder, salt, and especially flour accurately. Before measuring the flour, stir it with a spoon if it is compacted. Then lightly spoon flour into your measuring cup until it is heaped above the rim. Do NOT shake or tap the cup to settle the flour, or you will have more flour than you need. Slide a spatula or knife across the top to level.

When measuring liquid ingredients, use a clear plastic or glass container with lines up the sides. Set the container on the counter and pour the liquid up to the appropriate mark. Lower your head to read the measurement at eye level.

When you mix the flour to the moist ingredients, stir just until blended. Be careful not to over mix or beat your cookie dough, unless you like tough cookies! One helpful hint is to mix the dry ingredients thoroughly first. You want the dry ingredients to be fluffed up rather than compacted so it blends easily with the dough. You can use a wire whisk to mix the dry ingredients.

Another helpful hint in making any recipe is to get the necessary ingredients ready in advance. Some ingredients, such as butter, may need to be at room temperature. If you're mixing with an electric mixer, use butter at room temperature, but if you're mixing by hand, you will want to soften the butter to the consistency of mayonnaise. (You can soften the butter in the microwave at 30 percent power for a few seconds at a time.)

When baking cookies, choose light-colored, dull-finished, heavy-gauge cookie sheets. Old cookie sheets that are dark can make the bottom of the cookies overly brown. Shiny sheets work best for cookies that should not brown too much on the bottom. Do not use insulated sheets for cookies high in butter, shaped cookies, and some drop cookies. The butter may start to melt and leak out before the dough sets. If this happens, the cookies may have thin edges.

Non-stick cookie sheets are easier to clean and help ensure even baking; however, the dough may not spread as much and you may end up with a thicker cookie. On the other hand, rich cookies can spread if baked on a greased sheet. Note the directions in the recipe, and only grease the cookie sheets if specified. When you do grease a pan, use a light coating or your cookies can flatten or spread too much. (If you'd rather not grease, you can line the pan with parchment paper.)

Except for bar cookies, don't use cookie sheets with high sides which can deflect heat and also make it difficult for you to remove your cookies. Your sheets should be two inches narrower and shorter than the oven to allow for even baking. If you don't have enough cookie sheets, you can invert a jelly roll pan or use heavy duty foil. Put the foil on the cookie sheet as it comes out of the oven and bake immediately.

For any dough that needs to be rolled out, refrigerate the dough for a couple hours (or overnight). Use a rolling pin and lightly flour your work surface. If you use too much flour, the dough will absorb it and become tough and dry. You can also roll the dough between sheets of wax paper (or a cut-apart plastic bag). Since the dough softens quickly, only work with part at a time. Keep the rest cooled until ready to use. The thinner the dough, the crispier the cookie.

If you're cutting out cookie designs, dip your cookie cutters in flour to prevent sticking or tearing of the cookies. Cut the cookie shapes as close as possible to lessen scraps. Save the scraps until the end. Press together gently and roll. (Don't handle the scraps too much or they will become tough.)

When making sliced cookies, finely chop any nuts or fruit that you add to the dough to make it easier to slice. Chill the dough and cut with a think sharp knife. Wipe the knife occasionally with a clean paper towel. Occasionally turn the roll of dough while you slice it to get nice round slices.

For drop cookies, make your cookies about the same size so they bake evenly. A cookie scoop helps form equal-size lumps. Space all cookies evenly and leave enough space between each cookie to allow for spreading while baking.

Preheat the oven which takes about fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on your oven. Use the upper and lower thirds of the oven, reversing sheets from upper to lower and front to back about halfway through the baking period to ensure even baking. If you use only one sheet, position the rack in the center, and change from back to front halfway through the baking cycle.

Always cool the pan before baking another batch. A warm pan causes the dough to melt which can cause overspreading, deformed cookies, or altered baking times. If you place cookies on parchment paper of foil pan liner, you may slide the cookies onto the warm cookie sheet, as long as you place it directly in the oven. (Baking times may be a bit shorter.)

To check cookies for doneness, press down lightly in the middle to see if it bounces back. Bake sliced cookies until the edges are firm and the bottoms are just lightly browned. Generally, cookies are done when the edges begin to brown, or when they are golden. Every pan bakes differently, depending on the material, thickness, weight, and surface reflection.

To fine-tune the baking of cookies, test bake a couple cookies. If your cookies spread too much (and you didn't over grease the pan), then you may need to add a tablespoon or two of flour. If you're not certain of the time for baking, you can test bake four cookies, and remove two of them a minute or two earlier than the others. Let them cool before tasting them.

Place cookies on wire racks to cool evenly, so the bottoms don't get soggy. You can transfer some cookies immediately to the wire racks, while others need a couple minutes to cool. If the cookie bends or breaks when transferring, wait another minute before trying.

Thoroughly cool cookies before storing them to prevent them from become soggy. Store cookies in air-tight containers such as tins, cookie jars with tight-fitting lids or zipper-type bags. Clear plastic containers are the best since the plastic preserves freshness, and the clarity lets you see what's inside. For delicate or frosted cookies, use a wide container and put parchment paper between the layers. Separate the hard and soft cookies and cookies with different flavors. If you store them together, the soft cookies will cause the crisp ones to go limp, and the flavors often mix.

Copyright 2001 by Rachel Keller


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